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Thu Mar 1, 2012, 01:22 PM

Most Senators Leaving Since 1996 May Mean More Polarized Chamber [View all]

By Laura Litvan and James Rowley - Mar 1, 2012 12:01 AM ET

Retirement announcements by Senator Olympia Snowe and other centrists are putting more U.S. Senate seats at stake than at any time since 1996 -- and the result may be an even more polarized environment next year.

Snowe, a three-term Maine Republican known for voting with Democrats on some high-profile issues, said her decision was driven by frustration over partisanship and lack of compromise in the Senate. Other departing senators who seek consensus on such issues as debt reduction say they share her view.

“It’s very difficult to get things accomplished,” said Senator Ben Nelson, a Nebraska Democrat who said he will retire after two six-year terms to spend more time with his family. “People back home complain about gridlock, but they send people here who engage in that very thing.”

Ten senators -- seven Democrats and three Republicans --say they won’t face voters again in November, the largest number of elected senators eschewing re-election since 13 decided to forgo new terms in 1996.



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